24 Apr Staff Note – Alistair Reese: To Endure Hardship
In a perhaps apocryphal story, the Times of London once sought opinions from eminent writers and thinkers of the day. The query they posed was: “What is wrong with the world?” It is reported that the nineteenth century English social commentator G.K. Chesterton pithily replied: “Dear Sirs, I am”!
This week, in a variation of Chesterton’s comment, New Zealand Herald opinion writer Simon Wilson opined about the COVID-19 lockdown: “The biggest problem—the hardest thing to manage and therefore the thing that is most likely to undo all the best-laid plans—is not the illness itself. It is us.”
Chesterton and Wilson both understand the major cosmic challenge iterated in the question, “what is wrong with the world.” This is clear by their responses: “me/us”. Some Christians might extrapolate further and suggest that the solution to the “me/us” problem is the gospel. However, this is simplistic and inadequate if we do not understand that even as Christians, “me/us” can continue to remain a part of the dilemma.
In the era of lockdown in COVID-19, there is an opportunity to perceive how we might remain part of the cosmic problem. This enforced sabbath is a time for personal reflection—a sometimes uncomfortable meditation that often reinforces the “me/us” conclusion. However, the gospel does not leave us there. The writer of Hebrews declares: “Endure hardship as discipline…. no discipline is pleasant at the time but produces a two-fold harvest of holiness and peace.”
In a wider theological sense, this passage in Hebrews 11 acknowledges the mystery of God’s sovereignty, his tino rangatiratanga, his Lordship over all things. He is the One who, according to Romans, “is able to work all things for good for those who love Christ Jesus”. God utilises the fallen nature of the creative order, even COVID-19, to achieve his purposes. He is able to redeem this hardship, in part, by using it as a training programme for our soul. This wānanga with the Holy Spirit provides us with an opportunity to move from being part of the cosmic problem to being part of the cosmic solution.